A beach closure sign in Imperial Beach.
A beach closure sign in Imperial Beach. File photo

California Environmental Protection Secretary Jared Blumenfeld lauded House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and San Diego County’s congressional delegation Thursday for their successful efforts to include millions in funding in a new multi-national trade deal to mitigate toxic sewage flows in the Tijuana River Valley.

The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement trade deal includes $300 million in funding over four years to fortify water treatment facilities in the valley, namely the South Bay International Wastewater Treatment Plant. The House of Representatives voted to pass the deal Thursday afternoon and the Senate will now take it up for a vote as the deal continues creeping toward ratification by its three eponymous countries.

This week, the House and U.S. Senate also passed a $1.4 trillion federal spending deal that includes $25 million for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Border Water Infrastructure Program, $10 million more than Congress’ allocation to the program last year. Local, state and federal officials have characterized the funding as a long time coming.

“Sewage and other toxic pollution along the border are a serious threat to human health and our ecosystems. In the Tijuana River watershed, pollution causes frequent beach closures in San Diego and surrounding communities,” Blumenfeld said. “While we are committed to doing our part, this is a federal challenge that requires federal support.”

Transborder pollution from the Tijuana River has contaminated U.S. waters and coastlines for decades, forcing San Diego County environmental health officials to regularly close beach access near the border. During that time, local and state officials and environmental activists have called for federal assistance to protect the health of the environment and residents near the border.

In April, Sens. Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein, D-California, submitted a jointly written letter to multiple federal agencies requesting they address sewage runoff in the river.

In July, Reps. Scott Peters, D-San Diego, Juan Vargas, D-San Diego, and Mike Levin, D-Oceanside, introduced legislation to increase funding for Tijuana River cleanup efforts and prevention of future pollution. And in September, the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce’s annual delegation of local officials and business leaders discussed the issue with cabinet officials and members of Congress.

“I hope this leads to the Trump administration prioritizing finances necessary for infrastructure improvement projects along our border, as funding border water infrastructure is an important part in mitigating the overall cross-border pollution problem,” Vargas said. “I am proud to say that we have all cooperated to get to this point and we are one step closer.”

The San Diego chapter of the Surfrider Foundation and the city of San Diego have also filed lawsuits against the International Boundary and Water Commission, which oversees transboundary waterways. The lawsuits argue that the IBWC has neglected pollution in the river and its effect on the environment. The city jointly filed its lawsuit with California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.

The USMCA would replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, which went into effect in 1994 and is blamed by some politicians on both sides of the aisle for hastening outsourcing and the decline of the country’s manufacturing industries. Congressional Democrats have held up the deal in the House until coming to an agreement with the White House last week to strengthen its labor and environmental standards.

Local business leaders and elected officials have sung the deal’s praises for months, arguing that inter-border commerce is too vital to the San Diego region to sever trade relations between the U.S. and Mexico.

According to the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, trade between Mexico and San Diego has fostered a $2.5 billion supply chain and more than 100,000 jobs. Annual trade between California and Mexico is valued at roughly $73 billion.

— City News Service